Review: Small Engine Repair | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, September 16th, 2021  

Small Engine Repair

Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: John Pollono

Sep 07, 2021 Web Exclusive
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Of course his name is Chad. The entitled, letterman jacket wearing, millennial son of a right wing lawyer is the only character in the Massachusetts-set film Small Engine Repair that is more toxically masculine than the greying Gen Xers he’s selling molly to. While swapping hookup tall tales, Chad (played by Spencer Walker in a perfect embodiment of the modern alt-right connotations of his character’s name) gives his elder customers pause by recounting how he wooed and humiliated an unsuspecting teen. It’s one of the many nuanced scenes in this ever-unpredictable indie drama. When even Jon Bernthal’s puffed chest, skirt chasing, candy-red motorcycle straddling Terrance Swaino is taken aback by your boasting, you know you’ve crossed a line.

Though Swaino spends much of the movie flexing in oblivious overcompensation, his pals aren’t exactly enlightened elder statesmen. Writer, director and star John Pollono’s Frank is certainly striving for betterment, grimacing ever-droopily from the shame of a decades old jail stint that kept him from his then infant daughter. Frank’s steadfast efforts to properly raise the now-high school graduated Crystal (a cuttingly witty Clara Bravo) are propelled in part by the usually juvenile Swaino stepping up to care for her while he was in the pen. One scene where Frank loses his strained patience with Crystal and scathingly lectures her makes his sanctimony over Swaino ring all the more hollow.

But before any of that is revealed, Frank hosts a drugged out barbecue for Swaino and their third musketeer Packie (Shea Whigham of Boardwalk Empire fame, not merely playing against type but about-facing as a feeble hanger-on of his more strapping pals). Their camaraderie crackles onscreen, endearing the audience even when the dialogue clunks with cliches, or when the characters grow obnoxious. Swaino’s ribbing of Packie can be bruising (sometimes literally), but that’s his default for affection, redeemed all the more by his genuine remorse whenever he goes too far. Packie all but asks for it with his pretentious victim playing (“My Irish ancestors were oppressed!”). Yet, Packie couldn’t be sweeter while assisting a clueless Swaino with his Instagram, eschewing condescension all the while.

A better actor and director than a writer, Pollono (who adapted the movie from his play of the same name) applies slow-boiling subtlety throughout much of the film through both of the former roles. His script intermittently falters below that high bar. However, his abounding potential to pen a superior future project is more than apparent in scenes where his three amigos navigate their well-worn ties. And while his third act flails far beyond believability, Pollono deserves props for his ambitious storytelling.

Even in its weakest moments, Small Engine Repair will keep you engrossed thanks to Pollono’s penchant for on-point atmosphere and the layered performances from him and his fellow leads. Ludicrous plot twists aside, you’ll want to watch these adorably blustery Massholes bust each other’s balls all day. Oh, and Pollono should also be applauded for coaxing the most believable Massachusetts accents this side of Good Will Hunting out of his aces cast. (

Author rating: 6/10

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